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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Eat Crow...Sorry, Diana Gabaldon


Funny how often you limit yourself by your own misconceptions. Me, for instance, I held off reading the Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon for years. To tell the truth, I was even rather snobby about it to people who recommended them to me.

"Sorry," I remember saying sniffily, "but a historical romance with supernatural overtones just isn't my cup of tea." (Implying, I suppose, that I was intellectually above that sort of thing).

I don't remember when I read the first one, which happened to be The Scottish Prisoner, but I got it at the library. Maybe there was nothing else that piqued my interest that day. Because I hadn't read the first book first (The Outlander), there were some things about the story that I didn't understand but nevertheless, I fell in love with both Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser. Claire barely even made an appearance in that volume but that was fine with me because I always find male characters far more appealing than female ones. In fact, after I finished The Scottish Prisoner and decided to go back to The Outlander, I knew from the blurb that Claire would be a main character and I was disappointed that she'd take time away from the men.

That was so only until I began reading, then Claire too captured my heart. (The gay Lord John is actually the somewhat marginal figure but I always look forward to his appearances. In addition, he has some novellas devoted to him).

I assumed that, as in so many romances, Jamie would be the big, strong man and Claire would be the weaker, slightly ditzy woman who needed his protection, particularly since she came into his world, the rebellious Scottish Highlands of 1743, one that was totally alien to her. And Jamie is, in fact, a strong hero type, but Claire (who was a battlefield doctor during World War II before falling back in time) is equally as tough in her area of expertise. If she relies on Jamie's strength and fortitude, he relies on hers every bit as much.

Their love is not always a storybook affair. They fuss, they fight, they get disgusted with one another but in the end, they laugh and love and forgive and respect. Their sex is passionate and real but it is simply a natural part of their lives, not a focus of particular attention.

Diana Gabaldon is scrupulous about the history in her books, bringing whatever era she is writing about to life through meticulous detail (all of her books are pleasingly fat). I didn't even know I was interested in Scotland's history, but it turned out that in her sure hands, I became fascinated by it. Gabaldon does not sugarcoat any of the horrors of past times; she doesn't pull any punches about blood and guts and violence and ignorance.

She's a master of description, painting vivid pictures of the Highlands, of the towering mountains and vast forests, of bogs and gorse and heather. You go behind the scenes in royal castles and brothels and hospitals where early physicians ply their, almost barbaric, early trade.

Every character, and there are a lot of them through the entire series, is a fully-fleshed person and demands an emotional response from the reader, whether that response is admiration or pity or hatred or love or some combination of all those. There is no one you come away feeling lukewarm about, even some with the most minor roles.

Once I found them, I forced myself to limit my reading of the series. I didn't want to devour them all and be done too quickly. For one thing, they are too crammed with substance to rush through them. These are books to savor slowly. So I spread them out over the course of a year or so. It was a delightful feeling to know there was one waiting on the shelf to be pulled down when I was in exactly the right mood. Right now, I relish knowing I have Gabaldon's most recent offering, Written in My Own Heart's Blood, to look forward to.

I rarely watch movies or television except for news and NASCAR but when I discovered that Starzz was making a series of the Outlander novels, I immediately ordered the channel just for that one program, hoping that the the producers had made the right decisions regarding casting. I knew if the Jamie character wasn't believable as my Jamie, the entire series would be a bust.

When it was over, I heaved a sigh of satisfaction. Yes, Sam Heughan was Jamie and Caitriona Balfe was Claire. Justice had been done.

So, now I have the next Saturday and the next and the next, times however many shows there will be to spend time with the people who have become my favorite fictional characters. I will never enjoy television as well as reading but still, the series will help fill the time between books.

So, Diana Gabaldon, I'm sorry I spurned you during all my years of smug superiority. I was flatly wrong. You won me over with the first chapter and you've given me so many hours of delicious reading pleasure since. I hate to think I might have missed having Jamie and Claire and Lord John and the all the rest in my life.



Liz Flaherty said...

I've never read them, either, Vic, though my daughter-in-law loves them. I think I need to give them another try...

Shelia DeSantis said...

Beautifully said!

Vicki Williams said...

Thank you. It was from the heart!